How hybrid access as a service supports hybrid work

Hybrid access as a service from a startup helped a global company secure optimized connectivity over home broadband connections. Could HAaaS replace VPNs?

I recently spoke with the director of IT services for a global media and entertainment company to discuss its hybrid work initiative and the different technologies it uses to connect its remote workforce. The discussion took us from pre-pandemic to current day and covered technologies the organization has tested and deployed, including VPNs, software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) and hybrid access as a service (HAaaS).

Before the pandemic, the global company was looking for a service to enable its workers in Japan to work from home during the Olympics. Fortunately, this meant they had already tested, selected and deployed VPN technology when COVID-19 hit. What occurred next played out in countless IT shops, where IT staff had performed numerous acts of IT heroism to roll out these services across the entire workforce. For this company, the IT team scaled the VPN from about 150 workers to about 15,000 in just two weeks.

The organization put concentrators in each region to provide the best possible performance. But it found most users were constrained by having 100 MB links that were only getting about 50 MB link speed. In this case, most of the company's workforce -- about 60% -- probably wouldn't notice the difference when working remotely, the IT director said. But the other 40% of users -- such as designers, developers and illustrators -- were moving big packets.

"All of a sudden," he said, "they went from being in the office, where they had high-speed connections, to crawling like a snail."

This problem prompted the organization to see if better technology was available to help those "super users." The IT team embarked on a next-generation VPN project that included evaluating 20 different products, including VPN, software-defined perimeter, zero-trust network access and SD-WAN. To help users who needed immediate support, the company added to an existing SD-WAN footprint to help workers with the biggest problems.

Unfortunately, because of the costs involved and the burden of traveling with SD-WAN appliances, the operations team knew this was a temporary fix. More than half the services were quickly eliminated by the security team after a cursory examination.

This left the team searching for a new technology that could deliver secure connectivity with optimized performance over home broadband connections. The team found a service from a startup in stealth mode, called Cloudbrink, that offers hybrid access as a service, or HAaaS.

The benefits of hybrid access as a service

Despite reservations about working with a startup, this global enterprise decided to take a shot and try the technology. This company isn't alone. Research from TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) found that 68% of organizations are either somewhat likely or extremely likely to consider startups for technology purchases. That number increases for enterprise organizations that have mature digital transformation initiatives.

Research from TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) found that 68% of organizations are either somewhat likely or extremely likely to consider startups for technology purchases.

As the IT director and his team tested and compared different products, they were impressed with Cloudbrink's performance. Also, surprisingly, the technology is client-based and not a hardware appliance. Because of this, they also tested the CPU utilization and never saw it get over one-half of a percent CPU utilization on any devices they were using.

In addition to the low CPU utilization rates, the IT director highlighted other results the organization achieved using Cloudbrink HAaaS technology.

  • Reduced latency. In one test they performed, the current VPN was experiencing 200-millisecond latency from the U.S. to Singapore. The HAaaS cut that to 5 ms.
  • Increased network capacity. The IT director highlighted the opportunity to improve the performance of telecommunication links, especially in developing countries. While they saw 10 to 15 times the capacity of telecom links using HAaaS in developed areas, the HAaaS could deliver twice the stated capacity, even in developing areas with limited telecom capabilities.
  • Improved Zoom rooms. The testing revealed that remote and in-office workers can benefit from this technology when it's deployed in Zoom rooms to address conferencing problems. Since deploying HAaaS in Zoom rooms, users haven't complained about poor performance.
  • Augmented SD-WAN. The organization also tested HAaaS in combination with the SD-WAN services it deployed and found that users were seeing a 10% to 20% additional bandwidth boost. Since deploying HAaaS, the organization has not bought any additional SD-WAN devices.
  • Improved productivity for developers. Another benefit of HAaaS is the ability to deliver large files in a timely manner. Developers at the company required 12 to 14 hours to download a dev kit, but with HAaaS, it only takes 90 minutes. This has enabled developers to go from a single build per day to at least two, along with the potential to work a split shift that may increase to four builds per day, improving productivity for developers working remotely. From a business perspective, this could mean an accelerated time to revenue for new applications.
  • Location-based intelligence. Regardless of where a user is, the software ensures it's always connecting to the closest location and not redirecting someone visiting Japan through San Diego before going to an application in Japan.

HAaaS as a VPN replacement?

The IT director said the company's ROI is about two weeks per user, based on improved productivity. This calculation doesn't factor in the developer productivity, Zoom rooms or SD-WAN gains, however.

To date, the company has rolled out HAaaS to 1,500 users with plans to expand that to about 7,500 by year's end and to the remainder by the following year. The goal is to target super users who need it the most, such as developers and illustrators, first and then expand to everyone else in the company.

Another interesting benefit is the issue of trouble tickets -- or, more specifically, the lack thereof. Evidently, users have not submitted any trouble tickets in relation to the technology. Also, the company has had no reported outages or performance issues related to the technology. The IT director said this is in stark contrast to the existing VPN, which experiences frequent issues. To be fair, he said users have feature or function requests, but also said those requests have been solved quickly.

When I asked if he felt HAaaS technology would replace VPNs, his response was a swift: "I absolutely do." He went on to say, "We are 100% all in on a hybrid workforce. We continue to move applications into the cloud. And, with Cloudbrink, it's going to make access to those applications that much quicker."

The conversation with this customer confirmed the ability of HAaaS to perform at scale and deliver value to a global enterprise and support its hybrid work initiative. To further validate the technology performed as advertised, the ESG Validation team is also evaluating the technology. We will publish a First Look Validation paper that will highlight our findings.

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